Q: I am always forgetting people’s names right after I am introduced to them. What does this mean and what can I do about it?
A: Many people can relate to this issue. You are introduced to a new person at a party and immediately you cannot remember what name was said. Most of the time this is totally normal and nothing to worry about. The key is to ask yourself if this is the only issue you are having with your memory, or if you are noticing other ways your memory is affecting your daily life.
Any time memory issues are getting in the way of your functioning, you want to start by seeing your doctor and informing them of what you are noticing. A full physical to rule out other health problems, and a memory assessment can be completed so you have a better understanding of your next steps.
Assuming that you are not noticing other issues with your memory then you can focus on how to remedy this age-old issue of forgetting names. The number one reason for this is simply that you are not paying attention.
Most of the time when we are introduced to someone new our mind is focusing on other things. We may be worrying about how we will respond so we appear polite and welcoming. We may be thinking about who we are being introduced to and noticing their clothes or wondering more about them. Either way, our mind is not focused on the one thing we need to remember, their name.
Our brains will usually recall a face and note when a face is familiar from a past meeting. We often even remember the circumstance around that meeting. And, we can remember all of that without knowing the actual name.
When a new name is given to you, repeat it back out loud to the person. It not only confirms that you heard it correctly, but it shows them your effort while helping you pay attention and take note of the name. Repeat it again in your head and try and use it again soon after. For example, if you leave the conversation say “James it was nice meeting you.” This will help solidify your memory of the name.
Some people use association devices to help them remember. They may think of the person’s name and consider a similar sounding word, or a famous person, or someone else they know with that name. Then their mind links that association to the face and helps them recall the name. If the name is unusual, ask the person to spell it out. Thinking about the letters and picturing them in writing may help aid your memory.
In the end, if you do not remember a name, remind yourself it is probably happening to most of the people in that room. According to Psychology Today, nearly 85% of middle-aged and older adults forget names.
When you see the person again try reintroducing yourself. Most people really appreciate the offer of stating your own name again and they will reciprocate. And if needed just say “I am sorry, I never forget a face, but I am having trouble recalling your name.” Most people will appreciate this and are happy to share their name again. But this time, remember to pay attention.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com.